Well On Your Way: How Business & Wellness Coaches Support Startup Founders Through Hard Times
By Laura Cowan
Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.
Business Coaching vs. Wellness Coaching For Tech Founders
If you're a tech founder or a tech worker who has navigated a tough set of decisions in your career, you know the scenario: maybe you have to find a new job under less than ideal circumstances. Maybe your business is gaining traction, but you've lost yourself in the hectic grind of making it happen for yourself and your employees and now you're worried about a new set of hurdles to keeping your business running. Wellness coaching and business coaching are a support in times like these to tech founders all over the globe, and nowhere more than in places like Ann Arbor, which is home to a wide variety of coaches and wellness professionals. What do they wish you knew? That they're here for the hard times and the early days of starting a business, not just a luxury for the more affluent. This is because business and wellness coaching is a decision making support that saves individuals and founders the very practical resource of time--and therefore a lot of runway. That isn't to say that coaching is something everyone can afford, but it can be a lifesaver in more ways than one.
Dan McPherson of Leaders Must Lead coaches underserved groups in Ann Arbor's business scene including women and creatives. Eva Neuhaus of Breakthrough Coaching has a background in counseling psychology and somatics, and helps tech and startup founders sort through next steps to find a meaningful life amidst competing priorities and busy schedules. They are just two faces in the sea of Ann Arbor area coaches of all kinds. We sat down with them recently to talk about what coaching really looks like, because especially in troubled times coaches can be considered superfluous, when they might be just right for some tech professionals right now who are navigating difficult series of choices.
"My clients are commonly overlooked groups," McPherson says. "When I grew up, that's how I felt, exposed to violence and neglect." McPherson says he loves tech as well, and he helps anybody who comes to him, which now includes tech founders, and even local musicians. "The bulk of my clients are women, LGBTQ, and minorities," he says. McPherson built up his knowledge in multiple areas of business while he was working with large teams in corporate America, because he wanted a broad set of skills to help clients when he launched his coaching business. "I have 3 coaches of my own," he says. "Most people think you hire a coach for knowledge, but you really hire a coach to save you time. What is the value of a year?"
This can be a tricky equation to figure out. Can you afford coaching when your budget is smaller? The question can be sorted out by figuring out what you need to figure out. Do you need financial advice? To recruit more talent? That's not necessarily a coaching problem. But if you need someone to help guide the process of business development or building a culture that prevents burnout, then you're solidly in coaching territory and having support can make the difference between success and failure.
McPherson has worked in business managing teams of thousands with multi-million-dollar budgets, and now coaches founders with Ann Arbor SPARK who are just getting their startups off the ground. His focus is on making sure founders have the focus and the steps laid out to business success for early-stage ventures. McPherson says that he often tells founders they can assemble all kinds of business development knowledge on their own these days from books. But having someone point you in the right direction when your runway is short and the connections matter can help you avoid spending years figuring out every step on your own. Also, new businesses often flounder in early stages figuring out how to make the most of their time, how to focus in a strategic way. McPherson's coaching spends a lot of time, he says, on helping founders "shift their lens" to which work they really want to focus on, and which steps make the biggest impact for growing their business and moving them in the direction they want to go.
Eva Neuhaus's coaching is more focused on personal goals, and yet there is a big overlap here on finding the most impactful area of focus. "My work is on a spectrum from emotional processing to relationships to purpose," she says. Even if the goal of her clients, who are often Ann Arbor tech founders, is business growth, she helps them set both personal and professional goals. "How do I meet those goals?" she asks. "How do I find the highest leverage point for them? If one area of my life would fall into place, how would everything fall into place?"
Neuhaus often works with people who already have a great deal of business success, but they might feel a bit lost in the grind. Maybe they put so much energy into a tech career or starting a new business that they don't have time for relationships or can't seem to balance them. This is where a Masters in Counseling Psychology from CIIS and a concentration in Somatics helps. Somatics explores the mind-body connection to help people integrate and process change. "Somatics takes into account the body and whole person," Neuhaus explains. "I'm looking for context: what is someone's body doing while they're talking? Are they pounding their fist to make a point? Maybe there's anger underneath."
Somatics explores everything from traumatic memory locked in the body as tension, to unconscious physical clues an individual can unpack with the help of a therapist or coach about best next steps in their life and career. "Somatics is seeing the body as a manifestation of the unconscious," Neuhaus says. "It's bringing awareness to the unconscious." So in the case of a successful but stressed out tech founder, a coach such as Neuhaus could use her training to help a client explore ways their body might be giving them messages about what they really want and how they would really like to prioritize their life choices--if they can slow down and listen to themselves.
What Do Business Coaches & Wellness Coaches Really Do For Tech Founders?
It might seem luxurious in a time when people are suddenly losing jobs to hire a coach on top of everything else, and it is certainly the case that coaching is out of range for many people. It's really about getting coaching for the coach--a founder to help the founder, in order to make sure that they can be there for their employees. Coaching helps give guidance to areas where we are stuck, and that can help us gain a new perspective in areas where we might be floundering and could save a lot of time for ourselves and the people who rely on us. Neuhaus says her coaching is more than life choices and relationships. "Sometimes people coming to me are fleshing out ideas for companies," she says. "People come in and say I have different opportunities, and how do I choose?"
Neuhaus says it's about learning to listen to yourself and not just make the choice that seems most logical at face value but may not sit well with you or may cause problems with a partner. "Cultivate a receptive stance," Neuhaus advises anyone who is making hard career choices or dealing with relationship strain. "Listen to your partner and yourself, and," she says for the driven individuals who do so well at career and sometimes stumble when attempting to apply those same ambitious personality traits to relationship negotiations, "follow your partner's lead and do things that are more on the nurturing end." Neuhaus says if you can learn to "fill your own well" and nurture yourself through a tough situation through learning how to support yourself, you can learn to enjoy time by yourself and rely less on your partner, which also removes some pressure from busy relationships.
Neuhaus supports many tech founders through the fraught process of business development as well. "A lot of challenges I see from founders include not thinking longterm enough," she says. "Trying to get things off the ground, scrambling. Not creating a sustainable culture for themselves or the company."
McPherson agrees. There is so much time and stress that go into building a company that it's often easy to forget yourself in the equation, he says, and that leads to burnout. He often recommends that founders make sure they "solidify skills" to figure out "what do I need to get good at?" to succeed. Then he works with them to break down their load into "strategic steps" they can take to create a way forward for their business. "You add strategy, and money is the natural outflow," he says.
Those Who Can Do, Teach
Why do all this work to support other creatives and founders when they could be building a company of their own? For McPherson, it's about creating societal change he wanted to see when he was younger. "My mission is to impact the lives of 1 million creatives and entrepreneurs to inspire generational change," he says.
For Neuhaus, it's about helping founders find a more sustainable way to live happier lives. "How do we avoid pushing creative time to when we don't have steam left?" she asks. "I look at people's priorities and help them bake those into their schedule so everything else fits around it--health, family, creative hobbies that juice them are taken care of so they allow a person longterm to thrive and to move the company or person's life forward and not put health and happiness last."
If you can't do it for yourself, do it for the people you support or serve. Neuhaus says she encourages founders to see themselves like an Olympic athlete, who are often supported by multiple professionals including coaches and therapists to create the success that propels them to the top of their game. Top-level success often can't be achieved alone, and neither can running a company that continues to grow.
Even if you can't afford a coach to help you through a time of decision making, Neuhaus says it's important to "find ways to not postpone success or happiness--not pinning that to longterm goals like getting funded. What's something you're working on where you can enjoy success every day and mark interim landmarks?" she asks. "If people feel like they're winning, they're motivated to keep going. Take a moment to take it in, see what's working."
In times changing as quickly as these, we recognize the challenge of balancing all our priorities when basic safety can't be taken for granted. We hope this glimpse into the world of Ann Arbor's business and wellness coaching gives you a few tips to forge ahead and more resources to help you thrive. To learn more about the work of Dan McPherson and Eva Neuhaus, you can check out their websites Leaders Must Lead and Breakthrough Coaching, which include testimonials and some free content to get started. Be well and stay safe. Nothing is more important than you taking care of yourself so that you can continue the mission you started and live to fight another day.